Simpson, accusers have storied past
By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 1 minute ago
LAS VEGAS - When the sports memorabilia collector called police to report that he had been robbed at gunpoint in a casino hotel room, he knew exactly who to point them toward.
It wasn't because O.J. Simpson was once one of the most recognizable men in America: a former football star who was at the center of the "Trial of the Century" in the slayings of his ex-wife and a friend.
Alfred Beardsley and the other men trying to sell some of Simpson's memorabilia to someone described as a private collector were well-acquainted with the man who barged into the room.
At least one had considered him a close friend. One had been his licensing agent. Another had long profited from Simpson's fame.
But times have changed.
On Saturday, Las Vegas police were questioning one of the three or four men who was thought to have accompanied Simpson to the hotel room, Lt. Clint Nichols said. No arrests had been made and police were still trying to determine what took place before Simpson left the room with memorabilia he says was stolen from him. Police think a weapon was involved and they want to review hotel surveillance tapes to help sort it out.
What became a bit more clear was the on-again-off-again nature of the relationships between the fallen sports stars and the memorabilia collectors.
Beardsley appeared to have gone from a Simpson defender and ally to someone "sympathetic" with the families of the people Simpson was accused of killing, an attorney for the family of Ron Goldman said.
Another sports collector, Bruce Fromong, once testified for the defense in the civil trial brought by the families of Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Now Fromong says Simpson robbed him and Beardsley at gunpoint in a room at an older hotel off the Las Vegas Strip.
Simpson says he was just trying to retrieve memorabilia, particularly photos of his wife and children. There were no guns, he told The Associated Press. There was no break-in, he says.
The man Simpson accused of stealing the items from him is Mike Gilbert, another one-time associate. As Simpson's licensing agent in the late 1990s, Gilbert admitted snatching Simpson's Heisman Trophy and other items from his client's Brentwood home as payment for money he said was owed to him. He later turned the items over to authorities, save the trophy's nameplate.
Gilbert swore he'd go to jail before turning the nameplate over to the Goldman family, which was trying to collect on the $33.5 million civil judgment it won against Simpson. Gilbert later surrendered it under court order.
He apparently remained tight with his client through the ordeal.
"It has absolutely not affected our relationship at all," Gilbert said in October 1997.
Since then, according to Simpson, their relationship has changed. Simpson told AP he believes Gilbert stole items from a storage locker once held in Simpson's mother's name.
Attempts to reach Gilbert by phone were unsuccessful.
Simpson said he expected to find the stolen items when he went to an arranged meeting in the Palace Station hotel room Thursday.
The man who arranged the meeting, according to Simpson, was another man who makes a living on the fringes of the celebrity.
Thomas Riccio, a well-known memorabilia dealer, made headlines when his auction house, Corona, Calif.-based Universal Rarities, handled the eBay auction of Anna Nicole Smith's handwritten diaries.
Simpson said Riccio called him a several weeks to inform him that people "have a lot of your stuff and they don't want anyone to know they are selling it," Simpson said.
Along with the personal photos, Simpson expected to find one item in particular: the suit he was wearing when he was acquitted of murder charges in 1994.
It's not clear where they got the suit, but Beardsley, a former real estate agent and longtime Simpson collector, and Fromong had been trying to sell it for several months. They'd recently tried eBay and the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com.
Goldman family attorney David Cook said Beardsley called him several times with the hopes of arranging a deal.
"When I spoke with him, my impression was that he was very sympathetic to the Goldmans," Cook said.
That's not the position Beardsley, who once tried to arrange lucrative autograph signings for Simpson, took in 1999, before a major auction of Simpson's sports collectibles, including his Heisman.
"It bothers me that I'm putting money in the Goldman and Brown pockets," Beardsley told the AP. "I believe he's not responsible for this crime, and I think there are a lot of people who believe that."
It was perhaps such statements that made it hard for Simpson to believe that Beardsley and Fromong were now attempting to profit off his personal items.
In an interview with TMZ.com, Beardsley noted that during the alleged hold up in the hotel room Simpson appeared surprised the pair were the ones selling the items.
"Simpson was saying that 'I liked you, I thought you were a good guy,'" Beardsley said.
By late Friday, there were signs the relationship between the collectors and the celebrity might be shifting once again. Beardsley said he had spoken with Simpson since the incident. He called to apologize, Beardsley said.
As questions swirled around the curious cast of characters and their mysterious meeting, media scrutiny and public interest that has dogged the fallen athlete was in full swing.
By Saturday afternoon, Simpson's new book, "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer," was the top seller on Amazon.com.
None of the men will profit from the book's sales. After a deal for Simpson to publish it fell through, a federal bankruptcy judge awarded the book's rights to the Goldman family.